Every baseball team in Region 4 has sealed their fate for the 2014 season, every team except for two. Either Locust Grove or Griffin will finish in the No. 1 or No. 2 seeds, and Spalding has sealed the No. 3 seed for the state playoffs. Currently, Upson-Lee and Woodland are tied for the fourth and final playoff spot.
The Knights entered play this week needing to win all four games; so far they are two for two. However, they needed Jonesboro to pull off an upset victory over Woodland to help the Knight’s chances of advancing to post-season play. Unfortunately, Jonesboro lost to Woodland by a 10-5 score on the same night which Upson-Lee kept their hopes alive with an 8-6 victory over Dutchtown. After the Dutchtown victory and a 3-2 victory over Jonesboro on Wednesday, the Knights last hope is to defeat Spalding (14-3, 14-7) in Griffin on Thursday and Riverdale (1-15, 2-16) at home on Saturday. They also need Woodland to drop a game to either Eagle’s Landing (3-12, 4-16) or to North Clayton (2-12, 2-14). Upson-Lee has already defeated Spalding by a 6-5 score once this season, and defeated Riverdale 13-0 earlier this season. According to UL head coach Wayne Puckett, all the Knights can do now is win the games they play and see what happens.
“We got ourselves in this position by losing a couple of games earlier in the year that we should not have lost,” said Puckett. “We are playing pretty good baseball right now, and we just have to concentrate on what we can control. We are pulling for Eagle’s Landing and North Clayton, but there is nothing we can do to control those games. We just need to win our next two games and see where we stand.”
If the Knights defeat Spalding and Riverdale and Woodland defeats North Clayton and Eagle’s Landing, both teams would finish with a 12-8 record in Region 4 play. However, Upson-Lee defeated Woodland by a 10-6 score earlier in the season, while Woodland defeated Upson-Lee 15-7 three weeks ago. If the two teams finish tied, Woodland would advance to the State Playoffs by beating Upson-Lee by more runs than Upson-Lee defeated Woodland. For this reason, the Knights are the biggest Eagle’s Landing and North Clayton fans around, they are the only two teams in the region which can help the Knights make the playoffs. If Upson-Lee suffers another loss, a playoff spot would virtually be gone.
Upson-Lee took care of business in a must win game against Dutchtown on Tuesday. After Mother Nature poured rain on Silvertown Ballpark for an hour before game time, Upson-Lee readied the field for play and the two teams went to battle. The game looked like two different games from the first three innings, till the last four innings.
The Knights jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, after Kyle Kelly retired the side in order in the top of the first. After Kelly drew a walk in the bottom of the first inning, Matt Crews followed with a solid single to right field. Chris Duncan then singled to right field to load the bases. Brandon Blount then stepped up to the plate and delivered a RBI single to left field, driving home Kelly, while Matt Crews came home on an errant throw, giving Upson-Lee a 2-0 lead. Later in the inning, Chris Duncan scored on a passed ball, and UL had a 3-0 lead.
In the bottom of the second inning the Knights added three more runs to the board. Justin Shaw, who has been on an absolute tear recently, connected on his first of three hits in the ball game with a single to right field. Kalen Puckett then drew a walk, followed by a single from Matt Crews. On Crews’ single, Shaw and Puckett came home to score on a throwing error by the Bulldogs’ cut-off man, with Crews advancing to third base. On the very next pitch to Chris Duncan, Crews came home to score on a passed ball, and UL had a 6-0 lead.
In the top of the fourth inning, the Bulldogs scored two runs on three hits and a throwing error from Upson-Lee, cutting the Knights lead to 6-2. In the top of the fifth inning, Dutchtown cut the Knights lead to 6-5 with a lot of help from Upson-Lee. Dutchtown did not tally a hit in the inning, but with help of a couple of stolen bases and three fielding errors by Upson-Lee, the Bulldogs put three runs on the board. Trailing 6-5 in the top of the sixth inning, the Bulldogs tied the game up 6-6 with a double and RBI single with two outs in the inning.
Upson-Lee woke up in the bottom of the sixth inning. Zack Gooden reached on an error by the Dawgs’ shortstop, followed by a single from Levi Long. Elijah Hill then loaded the bases with a walk, followed by Justin Shaw’s third hit of a game to score Gooden and give the Knights a 7-6 lead. Kalen Puckett added a bases loaded walk which scored Long, and Upson-Lee held on to defeat Dutchtown by an 8-6 score.
Justin Shaw paced the Knights with three hits, a RBI, and a run scored. Matt Crews added two hits and two runs scored, while Brandon Blount added a hit and RBI. Chris Duncan, Levi Long, and Kyle Kelly each tallied a hit and run scored, while Kalen Puckett added a RBI.
On Wednesday, Upson-Lee held their annual Senior Night as they took on the Cardinals from Jonesboro. Once again it was Justin Shaw who continued his hot hitting, but on this day he used his arm to help lead the Knights to victory. Shaw tallied 116 pitches on his way to a complete game, going eight innings, allowing just one earned run and racking up six strikeouts.
‘I thought Justin pitched beautifully,” said Puckett. “I usually don’t like to throw a guy over 100 pitches, but his arm felt good and he is one of our seniors, and I wanted nothing more than for him to earn a win on Senior Night.”
Jonesboro notched the scoreboard with an early run on three hits in the top of the first inning, but in the bottom of the first inning, Upson-Lee tied the ball game with a run of their own. Kalen Puckett led the bottom of the first off with a single and then stole second base and advanced to third base on a bad throw from the Jonesboro catcher. Kyle Kelly then drove home Puckett with a solid ground ball out up the middle.
Fast forward to the bottom of the fifth inning with the game still tied up 1-1. Brandon Blount delivered a single to left field and after two ground ball outs, Blount advanced to third base. Once again Shaw came through with a clutch two out RBI single, helping himself out as the pitcher and giving UL a 2-1 lead.
In the top of the sixth inning, Jonesboro tied the game up with a double and a single to score a run, but the Knights still had some fight left in them.
After no one scored in the seventh inning, the game went into the eighth inning and in the bottom of the eighth, Matt Crews led the inning off with a walk. Elijah Hill came in to pinch run for Crews and Chris Duncan followed with a hard line drive single to left field. Brandon Blount then loaded the bases with a walk, and freshman Zack Gooden stepped to the plate. On the first pitch Gooden saw he roped a single to left field scoring Hill and the Knights won by a 3-2 score.
Justin Shaw led the Knights with two hits and a RBI. In the last three games, Shaw has raised his season batting average from .210 to a team leading .360 batting average. Kyle Kelly and Zack Gooden each added a hit and RBI, while Kalen Puckett and Brandon Blount each tallied a hit and run scored. Chris Duncan and Matt Crews each chipped in with a hit in the victory.
The Knights traveled to Griffin to take on Spalding in a “must win” ball game on Thursday, but the results of that game were not available by press time. The Knights will host Riverdale in a make-up game on Saturday at 11 a.m. to end the regular season. Look in Tuesday’s edition of The Times for updates on Upson-Lee baseball and their quest for a spot in the State Playoffs.